They're the family with the Mercedes in the drive getting £42,000 a year in benefits. Scroungers? AMANDA PLATELL meets them
The crack of dawn and my curious cabbie asks where I'm off to so early.
To meet the family of nine - with another baby on the way - who shocked the nation this week when it was revealed they were receiving £42,000 in benefits each year - and can afford to run two cars, a Mercedes station wagon and a people carrier.
'Oh, the benefit scroungers,' says the cabbie. 'It's disgusting.' But the estate where they live is anything but, set in the countryside on the edges of the town of Llangefni on the Isle of Anglesey.
The Davey family claim £42,000 a year in welfare benefits
The streets are made up of orderly, clean, mostly semi-detached houses, the gardens bearing the first flowers of spring.
The Daveys' home is at the end of a cul-de-sac, their infamous Mercedes parked outside.
On the walkway up to the front door there are the discarded toys of a large, young family and a pile of small children's bikes left for so long the grass has grown right through the spokes.
Inside, red-headed children are glued to the giant TV screen, oblivious to the clutter around them. 'All I ever wanted was to be a mum.
‘I'd like to have more kids if I could,' says heavily-pregnant Claire, 29, proudly introducing her brood.
Neither Claire nor Peter Davey have a job - she's never been employed, while her 35-year-old husband gave up his post in administration nine years ago and hasn't worked since.
And now they want somewhere bigger to live than their state-provided semi to home their expanding family - the seven children they already have and the one that will arrive in nine weeks.
Understandably, their story has provoked outrage since it appeared in a magazine last week.
At a time of crippling national debt it gave a startling insight into the growing chasm between the working and the workshy; between those who want to work for a living and those who think the world owes them a living. And a comfortable living, at that.
David Cameron argued again this week that we need to reward people who take responsibility for themselves and their families, take care of those who can't, and deal with people who are capable of looking after themselves, but refuse to.
In short, he said, we must end the culture of entitlement and welfare dependency.
Entitlement is, ironically, one of Claire's favourite words. It
trips off her tongue with frequent ease as she pushes back strands of
dyed blonde hair.
I ask her why she thinks we the taxpayers should support her and her growing brood, and she replies: 'The law says we're entitled to it. That's the law. It's not what we say, it's what the Government says. We're entitled.'
For Claire, there's no question of embarrassment, though her husband hastily adds: 'There is a sense of shame from not working.
‘There's always been a stigma about being on benefits.'
Just not enough of a stigma, it seems, to prevent them from enjoying the 42 in flatscreen television with Sky TV that graces their living room, along with a Wii computer games console and three Nintendo DS machines. Or to persuade Peter to stop fathering more children and get a job instead.
In a recession, no one condemns the genuine unemployed. But Peter quit his job as an administrator in credit protection insurance nine years ago, at the height of the boom, after realising the family would be better off living off the State.
Currently, they receive £815-a-week in benefits - equivalent to £42,000 a year. In addition to £439 a week in income support, they receive £87 in housing benefit, £99 in child benefit, £18 in council tax benefit and £172 in carer's allowance and disability benefit for their sixth child, Tie, who has a serious skin disease that requires around-the-clock care.
The three-and-a-half-year-old is now the reason the Daveys say they
can't work - although when Peter gave up his job, Tie hadn't even
The little boy suffers from EB, epidermolysis bullosa, a painful genetic skin condition that causes blistering and constant shearing of the skin from the lightest touch.
'There's no harder work than caring for a profoundly handicapped
child,' Claire repeatedly tells me. No one can argue with that.
I watch her on her knees on the floor changing his dressings, surrounded by NHS lotions, potions and bandages almost as big as the storage boxes stuffed with toys around the living room.
There is no doubt she loves her son and winces as he cries with the pain of the dressing change.
She is wearily patient, too, with her daughters who dance about in pretty frocks like any young girls.
The question, though, is whether it is right that they should
receive such generous hand- outs at a time when most hard-working
families are struggling simply to make ends meet. In this part of the
country, people count themselves lucky if they can take home £200 a
Mr and Mrs Davey can claim four times that in welfare - tax-free!
Benefits-mobile: The Daveys' Mercedes parked outside their house
Might this have been a contributing factor in not bothering to look for work as their family grows? For not only is Claire pregnant with their eighth child, but the couple want more children. If Claire gets her way, they will become a family of
14. And who knows what the monthly benefits cheque would be then?
Peter tries to justify his position. 'People should work,' he says. 'My parents did all their lives, they were both nurses. I know the importance of work, the fulfilment. It's not that we don't want to work. I'd love to work. I miss working, but I'm a fulltime carer to Tie.'
And then there is the tireless charity work he does for EB charity DebRA, running marathons and organising events to raise money. All very worthwhile, no doubt. But I can't help wondering whether some of that same energy and commitment might not be better directed into finding a job.
But Claire trots out her favourite line again: 'There's no harder job than looking after Tie.' And, of course, there are the six other children: Jessica, 12, Jade, ten, Jamie-Anne, eight, Harriet, six, Adelle, four, and two-year-old Mercedes.
As an additional burden, the couple recently discovered that their unborn baby also has Tie's skin condition. Safe to say, there seems little chance of Peter finding work any time soon. Not that this hampers Claire's ambitions for an even larger family. 'No one can stop me having children.' But is it right, I ask?
'It's my right,' she replies. If people knew how hard her life was, she says, they would be more sympathetic. They might be less sympathetic to hear that despite their vast state handouts, the Daveys declared themselves bankrupt after being saddled with £20,000 of debts, mostly accrued from catalogue shopping.
They did it, they say, on the advice of the Citizens Advice Bureau, because they had no hope of paying off their debts. Even paying back tiny amounts for a long period was apparently impossible for them.
Claire says the money all went on clothes and toys for the children. 'It's every mother's right to buy their kids nice things,' she insists. Rights without responsibilities, it seems, is a recurring theme in the Davey household.
The financial troubles began, says Peter, after the birth of Tie. 'Driving to Alder Hey Hospital to see him every day, the cost of petrol and everything . . . But we did it all for the kids, everything is for the kids.'
Including the huge TV and the £50-a-month Sky subscription? That, Peter says, is their one indulgence. It's the only entertainment the kids get and the signal around their home is so bad they have to have Sky. In a rare flash of anger, Claire says: 'Anyway, who hasn't got Sky.'
The full feature appears in this week's Closer magazine, on sale now
And what about the two cars? Two cars mean two sets of vehicle tax, two sets of running costs. Can they afford that? 'Everything is for the kids.'
When I ask what they dream of for their children, Peter says, without a trace of irony: 'We teach them they can't expect things to be handed to them on a plate. They have to work hard. Claire makes them study hard too.'
'My dream is for my kids not to have the life I've had,' Claire adds. And what's that? 'A dead-end, living here on benefits. I want them to get out and get a good job.'
The way the Daveys see it is that the system has failed them, they haven't failed themselves. Peter says that straight after leaving his last job, he applied for 40 positions and not one led even to an interview.
Certainly, many of the factories around them are closing. And even at those that haven't, the wages are low - especially when compared to the welfare cheque for a couple with a large family.
In Anglesey, 15.3 per cent of 16 to 54 year olds are economically inactive, 15 per cent are on housing benefits and 18.4 per cent of primary school pupils get free school meals. Not a promising future, then, for the Daveys' ever-expanding brood.
The couple may use their sick son Tie to justify their position, but the truth is that this human tragedy began long before his birth into an already overflowing household.
No one is questioning their love for their children, but the glaring
truth is that they are locked in to a culture of welfare dependency for
the rest of their lives.
Peter's potential income is dwarfed by the amount the State will pay
him and Claire for the rest of their lives without having to do a
proper day's work.
That's the real tragedy here. When asked how they would defend themselves against their critics, they say: 'Don't judge a book by its cover - we are more than just a family on benefits, we are parents first, nurses second and advocates of DebRA charity third.'
Which is all very well, but by demanding a bigger house for their
brood, and by driving around town in a Mercedes, it's hard to feel
sympathy for their situation.
Surely the welfare state should be a safety net to help those in desperation, not a velvet cushion to support them in comfort forever.
Are they really victims of circumstance? Or are they simply making mugs of every one of us who believes in the dignity of work and taking responsibility for yourself?
Back in a cab, on the way to catch a train, the radio is on, and the last caller is finishing a phone-in on the local station.
The topic of conversation is the Daveys again. Rightly or wrongly, the last word I hear ringing in my ears? 'Scroungers.'
- The original feature appears in this week's Closer magazine, on sale now.
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